U.S. OFFICIALS are celebrating a modest victory in the war against the Islamic State in Syria — the apparently successful defense of the Kurdish town of Kobane, on the border with Turkey. Under siege since early October, Kobane has little strategic value but came to be seen as a test of whether the United States and its allies could stop the expansion of the Islamic State and the humanitarian crimes that accompany it.
With the help of Kurdish ground forces, the extremists were turned back. But perhaps the most significant fact about Kobane is that it consumed 75 percent of the nearly 1,000 airstrikes carried out by allied planes throughout Syria since September, according to The Post.
That astonishing share reveals the absence of a U.S. military strategy for Syria outside of preventing the fall of a single border hamlet that attracted the attention of international media. In the rest of the Syrian territory it controls, including its capital of Raqqa, the Islamic State faces little pressure from Western airstrikes and is growing stronger rather than weaker.
Mr. Obama still speaks of fostering a Syrian rebel force that could fight the Islamic State. But the initiative is pathetically underresourced and moving at a snail’s pace. Similarly, a CIA program to help rebel groups has been so limited that many fighters have defected to more militant Sunni groups, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Behind this feckless effort is a cluster of mistaken notions. Mr. Obama has convinced himself that it’s not possible or desirable to create a Syrian force that could defeat the regime of Bashar al-Assad; that the only alternative to his policy is an Iraq-style invasion by U.S. troops; and that the Islamic State can somehow be defeated in Iraq without tackling its Syrian birthplace and stronghold.
Most disturbingly, senior administration officials have grasped the figment that Russia and Iran can broker an end to the Syrian civil war — one that at least temporarily leaves the Assad regime in place. Setting aside the moral repugnance of a policy that would accept the continuance of a regime that has slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians with chemical weapons, “barrel bombs” filled with shrapnel and mass starvation, this thinking is, as a practical matter, delusional. Mr. Assad long ago showed he will not compromise with secular rebel forces, which in any case are not taking part in Russian-sponsored peace talks.
The administration appears to believe that Iran’s cooperation in Syria will flow from a hoped-for deal on its nuclear program — and conversely, that no action can be taken in Syria that might upset Tehran before such a deal is struck. But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has strongly rejected cooperation with the United States on regional security. Nor will traditional U.S. allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, consent to a new Syrian order sponsored by Iran.
Mr. Obama’s passivity and false hopes are contributing to the steady worsening of the humanitarian and strategic situation in Syria, and the postponement of steps required for an acceptable outcome. These include military action to weaken the Assad regime and a concerted effort to create a new Syrian army and government. Kobane’s relief, while welcome, won’t alleviate the mounting catastrophe.
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